Photo by Josh Applegate // Unsplash

My Italian Trip

“Tourists pass through places, but pilgrims let places pass through them, allowing their hearts to be changed.” – Rev. Peter J. Miano

On my first three visits to Italy, I went as a tourist, seeing all the famous attractions and experiencing the grandeur of the country. This past June, I traveled back to Umbria, the beautiful land of my grandparents, as a pilgrim, and saw everything in a new light. This time, I felt at home there, among people who were full of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere we traveled, I felt close to God and lost my usual anxiety in new encounters. I actually felt loved, by my fellow pilgrims and by Christ, which was novel and surprising to me.

Our main destination was the province of Umbria in the center of the country. This area was new to me; I was enthralled with the beautiful scenery – verdant fields, orchards of olive trees, flowers growing out of stone walls and apartment window boxes – all surrounded by purple mountains. Our trip to Assisi was one of the highlights of our trip. We met our guide, Francesco, who shepherded our group through St. Francis Basilica and Saint Clare's, giving us the history of these amazing people and their contribution to the world.

Everywhere we went we encountered local friends. Our guide took us to a vineyard owned by friends who welcomed us in the typical Italian fashion, with food and drinks and fellowship. It was an unforgettable afternoon full of love and laughter.

Likewise, the community of Todi was waiting for the “American friends”, even if we were strangers, with a several course homemade meal served in one of their CL nursery schools. We asked, “Why are you waiting for us?” Michelangelo had a quick answer: "Because you are across the ocean, with a different culture, yet have the same heart that is looking for beauty, happiness and Love. And this is why we are friends and companions. It is a true provocation to me to look at the hearts of people."

We met more local friends in Perugia: A guide who sang Medieval Laude to us and two young adults who witnessed a passion for their land and town by restoring Perugia's underground site and giving it back to light for all to re-discover. Doing this work they are employing a dozen local young adults. Their passion is contagious. How can we Americans manage to grasp that Perugia was built first by the Etruscans in 310 BC, renamed colonia Vibia Augusta Perugia by the Romans, and filled with hundreds of towers, gates, churches and monasteries in the middle ages? We learned that Perugia became the location of five papal conclaves, military offensives, battles between parties, atrocities and truces, holy popes and terrible ones, emperors and bishops, up to 1860 when the town was reunited to the Kingdom of Italy. This is the dramatic history of all the Umbrian towns: Assisi, Orvieto, Spoleto, Norcia and many more.

That moment was our personal encounter with Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, the Virgin Mary’s home, and the Crucifix that spoke to Francis. The history of the Church and its failures are well represented in the paintings as well as the miracles of Christ’s mercy upon us.
Our last day was spent in Rome where Sister Chiara of Saint Charles Borromeo Missionaries and our friend Carmela were waiting for us. It is not possible to go to Rome without a friend: it is a place that has witnessed Christianity for more that 2000 years and still does, through the faces and the lives of these friends that gave themselves to us on a very hot and crowded day. We never met each other and yet we were not strangers.
My normal reticence was stripped away by the generous spirit of all who shared their joy and kindness. I thank God for this life-changing experience. It was a time that made clearer to me what Giussani meant when he said, “vacation time is the noblest time of the year, because it is the moment when one becomes as involved as he likes in the value he recognizes as dominant for his life.

Marilyn, Maryland

*If you are interested in a trip like Marilyn describes, contact Laura at and inquire about dates for upcoming trips and pilgrimages.